Jun1WedJune 1, 2016
How would you respond if you were immersed in a setting where you would have to sleep in dorms, have limited access to television, meet new people every mealtime, listen to twelve hours of engaging sermons and participate in ten hours of worship and prayer over the course of four days? This is what I experienced last week at the Moody Bible Institute and, for me, it was refreshing!
Since this conference was part of my continued education as a pastor at FMC, I have been reflecting upon what the Lord taught me through this experience - answering the common question, "So what did you learn?"
First, I learned that pastors are not immune from burnout. I witnessed many full and part-time servants of The Church weighed down by high responsibility, little affirmation, slow spiritual growth within their congregations, financial trials, and relational conflicts. It was helpful to be reminded of this because it gave me pause to evaluate the patient and intentional spiritual rhythms for my life and ministry. Yes, I still am a work in progress in this area. But this lesson reminds me to 'run' at a pace which is sustainable and most helpful for my family and my church.
Secondly, I learned how to grow in my prayer life. Every morning, I attended at one-hour prayer and worship service hosted by the 6:4 Fellowship. This time in prayer and praise renewed my spirit and gave me practical wisdom for how to lead my disciple-making friends and our congregation into deeper forms of prayer. As a result, I am renewing my commitment to pray weekly for our congregation members and lead into deeper fellowship with the Lord. My hope is that my prayer life and the prayer culture at FMC shows obvious signs of maturity over the next 12 months.
Thirdly, I learned that an overwhelming number of North Americans are growing hostile towards the simple proclamation of the gospel and the exclusivity of John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” One speaker shared the perspective of well-known secular journalist who writes about evangelical Christianity. In this journalist’s perspective, Christians remain the only sub-culture in America that is socially acceptable to openly mock. How did this happen? From Dr. Tony Evans' perspective, the lack of clear, Bible-based preaching among US churches over the past generation is mostly to blame. (A free download of Dr. Evans' sermon is available here. I would strongly urge you to listen to it!)
I had a difficult time believing that such a watered down gospel existed until I spoke with an Iowan pastor whose grandfather grew up in a mainline denomination, attending for sixty years, and yet still believes that his good actions will earn him salvation in Heaven! Wow. How troubling is that!
Then, I began to speculate if there were even pastors who have grown uncomfortable with the gospel enough to be hostile towards it. At Pastor's Week, I witnessed two! One evening, D.A. Horton, a young, urban church-planter, gave a 50-minute presentation of the gospel. It was deep with analogy but simple in content. Essentially he said, “We are all sinners. God is perfectly holy. Therefore, our only hope is to trust in Jesus as the perfect atonement for our sin.” After the message, I observed the body language and brief conversation among three pastors who sat directly in front of me. One was affirming the gospel message with head nods, “amens” and clapping. The other two made it clear that they disagreed and refused to clap for the presenter after the message was over. It was clear to me that the gospel was offensive these men and I was astonished.
I could share more with you, but essentially I learned that we (yes…all of us) need to continue to present a clear gospel even when it feels all too familiar. The time has come when people will have itching ears, listen to whatever they want, wander from the truth and be deceived. When that happens among our friends and family, what will we do? Lord willing, we’ll learn to pace ourselves, grow in prayer and compassionately proclaim the sufficiency of God’s grace through faith in Jesus.
Our world is quickly changing, but we serve a God who remains faithful. I desire to keep resting in Him.